Beauty Careers

Where will your career in the salon industry take you? From nailing the perfect French manicure as a nail technician to executing the perfect shade of blonde as a colorist to creating the hottest looks as a hair stylist – a career in the salon industry will allow you to spread your wings and make a name for yourself using your natural talents and your eye for beauty.

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Beauty services, often referred to as the “service sector” of the beauty industry, generally include services performed in a licensed salon setting, although these services can certainly be performed in places such as spas, health clubs, retail establishments, and on site at such places as production sets, fashion shoots, theaters, and mobile salons.

Salon careers in the beauty industry include these general classifications:

  • Hairstylists/hairdressers
  • Manicurists/Pedicurists
  • Estheticians
  • Massage therapists
  • Barbers
  • Makeup artists
  • Electrologists

However, careers in the salon industry may also include:

  • Colorists
  • Hair braiders
  • Natural hair stylists
  • Eyebrow threaders

The Professional Beauty Association (PBA) reports that of the more than 1.2 million professionals with jobs in the U.S., 32 percent are self-employed; that’s much higher than the overall U.S. self-employed workforce of just 7 percent. Barbers have the highest percentage of self-employed workers at 36 percent, followed by hairdressers and cosmetologists at 34 percent.

Other findings about salon professionals include:

  • The salon and spa industry boasts a broader representation of women and minorities than the overall U.S. workforce.
  • Nearly 85 percent of all personal appearance occupation jobs are women, compared to just 47 percent of the overall U.S. workforce.
  • About 61 percent of all salon businesses are owned by women, compared to just 30 percent of the overall private sector businesses in the U.S.

A Closer Look at the Professionals in the Salon Services Industry

Salon professionals often fall under the general category of cosmetologists, which are defined as beauty professionals who provide cosmetic services for the hair, skin, and nails, all of which are designed to help their clients look and feel their best.

Cosmetologists, who may provide services both in and out of the salon or spa, possess a wide range of skills that are designed to meet the needs of the diverse clientele they serve. Many cosmetologists choose to focus their careers on just one cosmetology specialty, such as manicuring, hair styling, or makeup artistry; therefore, many states offer specialized licenses in addition to a more comprehensive cosmetology license:


A cosmetologist is a broad title for beauty professionals who are state licensed to perform hairstyling, nail care, esthetics, and makeup artistry. In general, cosmetologist jobs may include one or more of the following:

  • Cutting and styling hair
  • Adding hairpieces and hair extensions
  • Coloring, bleaching, or chemically straightening or curling hair
  • Applying makeup, lotions, masks, or other cosmetic preparations to the face or neck
  • Shaping, trimming, plucking or coloring the eyebrows
  • Cleaning, trimming, filing, buffing, and treating fingernails and toenails
  • Applying artificial nails and nail polish

In general, most states require hairstylists/hairdressers to possess cosmetology licenses.


As one of the fastest growing segments of the beauty services industry, estheticians are state licensed to provide all aspects of skincare, including facials, hair removal, and makeup artistry, as well as advanced procedures such as light therapy, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels, among others.

Estheticians, who typically utilize a wide variety of products and tools to perform esthetics services, provide their clients with cosmetic and therapeutic services, although they are educated and trained to identify any number of skin diseases and conditions. The majority of esthetician programs also include study in massages, waxing, reflexology, and makeup artistry.

Nail Technicians

Nail technology is the study of nail art and design. Nail technicians, more informally referred to as manicurists and pedicurists, perform a number of treatments to the hands and nails, including applying artificial nails and tips; trimming, buffing, and polishing the nails; soaking and buffing the feet; and massaging the hands, feet, arms, and legs.

Makeup Artists

Makeup artists are the beauty professionals who apply cosmetics to clients. Makeup artists may work in a wide array of settings, from salons and spas to television and film production sets and theatrical productions. Therefore, their work in makeup design may range from special effects and performance makeup to bridal and special event looks. Makeup artists may also focus their careers on the cosmetics industry, where their skills are used in everything from retail distribution to product development.


Barbers are haircare professionals who cut, trim and style hair and provide men’s grooming services, such as beard and mustache trimming and shaving. Many barbers also color hair and perform massage services for the scalp, face, and neck. Although barbers generally work in barbershops, they may also work in salons, hotels, and resorts.


Electrologists permanently remove unwanted facial and body hair through the electrical current process called electrolysis, an FDA-approved procedure. Electrologists may work in salons, esthetics salons, or private offices. The majority of states now regulate electrology and electrologists through professional licensing.

Massage Therapist

Massage therapists provide relaxation and relief through massage therapy techniques. They may work in a variety of environments, such as spas and dedicated massage therapy salons. Their focused, hands-on techniques promote relaxation and increase circulation in the body’s soft tissues, including muscles and tendons.

Salon and Spa Job Requirements

Beauty careers in the salon generally require state licensing, usually through the state’s board of cosmetology or department of health. Although state requirements vary from one state to the next and certainly from one beauty profession to the next, beauty professionals must generally complete a formal educational program through an accredited school of beauty or through a recognized apprenticeship.

For example, cosmetologists in California must complete a recognized program of cosmetology that is at least 1,600 hours in duration or an apprenticeship that is at least 3,200 hours in duration. Other educational requirements for cosmetology specialties in California include:

  • Barber: 1,500 hours or an apprenticeship of 3,200 hours
  • Nail technician: 400 hours
  • Electrologist: 600 hours or an apprenticeship of 3,200 hours
  • Esthetician: 600 hours
  • Massage therapist: 250 hours (practitioner) or 500 hours (therapist)

Other licensing requirements include taking and passing a written and practical examination and meeting minimum licensure requirements, which include being a minimum age and completing a minimum level of education. For most professions, the minimum age for licensure is between 16 and 18 years old, and the minimum education level is between the tenth grade and twelfth grade.

A Snapshot of the Salon Industry

According to the Professional Beauty Association’s (PBA) 2014 Economic Snapshot of the Salon and Spa Industry, the salon and spa industry consists of more than 1.1 million establishments. Salon establishments with payroll employees totaled nearly 93,000 in 2012, with sales in this category totaling almost $22 billion. Non-employer salon establishments in 2012 totaled about 1 million, with annual sales totaling $23 billion.

The largest gains in the salon and spa industry in the last decade, says the PBA, has been in the non-employer sector. Non-employer establishments increased 83 percent in the last 10 years, and sales in these settings increased 93 percent. In comparison, employment- based salons increased 16 percent and their sales increased 39 percent.

The beauty professionals expected to post the largest increase in jobs between 2012 and 2022 are skincare specialists, with a projected increase of 40 percent, while hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologist jobs are expected to increase by 13 percent during the same period and manicurist and pedicurist jobs are expected to increase by 16 percent.

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